IN April, a month after the COVID-19 pandemic had spread to Guyana, there were reports that incidents of domestic violence were increasingly being reported. Persons were asked to stay within the confines of their homes, and persons were starting to feel the burden of reduced productivity. The stress and tension resulting from having to contend with the pandemic and its ramifications are, perhaps, inescapable; and as such, it isn’t hard for me to believe that domestic violence would have increased during this time.
A person I look up to made a Facebook post about a forum that would discuss the topic, “Healing in Community: People need People.” I am usually hesitant to join fora such as these, because I don’t think I know enough to join these spaces and participate. But this time I did. I was motivated by an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Last year, I met a woman who was in an abusive relationship with her husband. A colleague of mine asked me to speak with her and hopefully, provide some redress to her. I visited her at her sister’s home where she was staying after she left her husband. As soon as I walked into the yard there was broken glass scattered everywhere. The woman’s husband came to her sister’s home and broke the window panes and threatened to do more harm if his wife did not return home. That was my first glimpse into the abuse this woman faced.
Sometime later after we sat down and talked, I began to realise the extent of the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse she has endured over the years. She also highlighted her frustration with the law-enforcement system, detailing how lacklustre their response to her has been. It was heart-wrenching, to say the least.
I was accompanied by another colleague who readily knew what to do. Immediately, we arranged a meeting for her at the Help and Shelter NGO and my colleague was able to connect her with someone who could help her better than we ever could. The next day she went to the meeting and was intent on getting help for herself; she also called to update me on her every move. She was advised on what avenues to take and was intent on pursuing those.
A few days later, however, I found out that she had returned to her husband; then, I was also asked not to report on her situation, if I was planning to. I couldn’t understand what was happening.
I thought that going back to her husband was a terrible decision. At the recent online forum, however, I was made to understand that there is strength in leaving a situation of domestic violence and there is also strength in staying in that situation.
A few persons shared how long it took them to finally leave an abusive relationship because, you know, it’s not just about picking up yourself and walking out. There are myriad decisions that need to be taken and well, decisions take time. And while there are compassionate humans out there, who would, ideally, like to do nothing more than help as much as reasonably possible, it was said that help should be given in support of whether the woman wants to stay, or wants to leave.
The right to self-determination and agency is important too. Persons… women experiencing domestic violence find themselves in spaces where they aren’t being respected and where their feelings and their rights are, essentially, being invalidated. And it is for this reason, it was said, that empowering the women should entail respecting whatever decisions they do make (whether they choose to seek help, leave the situation, stay in the home, or otherwise).
Nevertheless, none of this means that support should not be provided to the women. Support means being an active listener (emphasis on listening and not interjecting); it means withholding judgement and it means truly letting the individual know that they can rely on you for support with whatever decision they make. Support calls for compassion and empathy, not a need to ‘fix’ anything.
In an ideal world where ideal things happen all the time, I wouldn’t need to write that domestic violence is abhorrent and unacceptable. We don’t live in an ideal world with ideal things, and right now I think about how this pandemic makes it an ever lesser than ideal place vis-a-vis domestic violence. People need people, always, and especially at a time like this.
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